Most pedestal and wall-hung sinks are made from vitreous china, and the same qualities that make this material a good choice for toilets work well for sinks too: a durable, abrasion-resistant, easy-to-clean surface that maintains its luster year after year.Choose vitreous-china sinks-particularly pedestal sinks-with care, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the brand, because any ceramic manufacturing process produces a high number of seconds that may have defects ranging from minor blemishes or depressions in the surface to hairline cracking and out-of-plumb or warped mating surfaces. This can mean drop-in self-rimming sinks that don’t sit flat (particularly larger ones) and two-piece pedestals that just don’t quite go together correctly.
Enameled cast iron has most of vitreous china’s good qualities, and it is much less prone to cracking. Cast iron is strong, rigid, and quiet when water is running into it, although it can chip if mishandled during shipping or if a hammer gets dropped on it during installation. Cast-iron sinks are very heavy, which may not make that much of a difference with smaller vanity bowls, but can make handling larger sinks hard on the back.
Enameled steel is similar to enameled cast iron but considerably lighter and less expensive. It is much more likely to chip than enameled cast iron because its porcelain coating is thinner and the steel is more flexible. Water running into it makes more noise, too, and cools down more rapidly because the thin steel walls tend to dissipate heat pretty quickly. Formerly a low-budget alternative to porcelain and cast iron, enameled steel seems to be rapidly losing ground to synthetic materials that are competitively priced and that perform just as well, if not better. I’ve removed a few of these sinks in remodels, but I haven’t put any new ones back in lately.
Cultured marble is one of those synthetic materials, and it’s been around for a long time. Cultured marble, like cultured onyx and cultured granite, is technically a cast polymer, created by mixing crushed minerals like marble, onyx, or limestone with a polyester resin. This mixture is then poured into a mold and cured at room temperature. Like fiberglass, the surface is usually then gel-coated with the actual sink color and pattern, so some cast-polymer sinks are prone to scratching and damage. One problem often associated with cast-polymer sinks is “crazing,” or cracks and blisters in the gel coat. This typically occurs around the drain opening and is caused by the thermal shock of alternating hot and cold water, by abrasion from cleaning, and/or by a gel coat that is too thin or thick. Much of the do-it-yourself and lower-end sink market has been dominated by these sinks, in part because they’re relatively inexpensive and look good on the shelf. Some of the newer and more expensive cast polymers have a higher percentage of materials like quartz, which is very hard, and aren’t gel-coated. These cast polymers are much more heat and impact resistant and are sandable, making damage easier to repair.
Solid-surface materials like Corian and Surell are similar to cultured marble in that they too can be cast into easily cleaned one-piece sink / counter-tops. They have the advantage of having colors and patterns that are an integral part of the material, so repairs can be made simply by sanding away dents and scratches, and the nonporous synthetics are stain resistant (though not stain proof). Individual sink bowls are also available, though they are generally laminated into larger counter-tops of the same material. Expect to pay a lot more for solid-surface sinks than for cultured marble.
Ceramic earthenware bowls offer a colorful and organic alternative to mass-produced sinks. Because they are handmade, these sinks have irregularities that sometimes make getting them to fit correctly a real challenge, particularly those made outside the United States. Often these sinks don’t have an overflow-a secondary outlet to the drain to keep a stoppered sink from flooding-which is sometimes required by local building codes. And because they are somewhat fragile, they require careful installation to make everything fit together well-tight enough not to leak but not so tight as to fracture the bowl.
But they add a custom touch to a bathroom, particularly when matched with tile work from the same pottery.
Stainless-steel sinks have long been popular in the kitchen, and their somewhat industrial look sometimes lends itself well to bathrooms, too.They are certainly durable and easy to clean. There is a wide range of quality in stainless-steel sinks, with a corresponding range of prices. The best ones have a higher percentage of chromium and nickel, making them more stain and corrosion resistant, and are typically made of 18-gauge stainless steel, making them stronger and giving them a higher luster. Less expensive sinks feel flimsier because they are made of lighter 22-gauge (or less) steel; they have a duller finish, tend to be noisy, and tend to warp.
Metal sinks are also available in brass, copper, aluminum, and bronze. Sometimes these sinks are mass-produced, but more often than not the more esoteric ones are handmade, and the same reservations that apply to ceramic sinks apply here. Like handmade ceramic sinks, metal sinks can be fussy to install and sometimes require some modification to adapt them to plumbing and fittings. Tempered-glass sinks are also available in a number of distinctive styles, including a sink basin mounted above the counter-top.